Networking, by James Herbertson

Networking is something that makes me shudder. Which may sound slightly strange for someone that has co-founded an evening with networking as one of the core principals. I have been to far too many events where it was networking for networking’s sake. And too many people, probably myself included, misconstrued this as an opportunity to sell. I came away often with a hollow feeling, and the horror story of being left stuck in the corner being lectured to on the merits of insurance or double-decker coach tours. Does this resonate?


Yet having a network is a valuable asset. Great things have happened from having a network. I have recruited team members that have gone on to be managers and hold important roles in my businesses. I have grown my companies through being introduced to partners. I have been given advice from people far better qualified. I found a buyer for my first business, Answer English. I can even be held partially responsible for three weddings, (just call me Cilla Black) from people that have met at charity & language learning events I organised, and they have gone on to marry. And by far the greatest thing that a network provides is having a group of people you can go to when faced with a challenge for support and advice.


When these positive things are seen in the context of a networking event it’s easy to concentrate on what you will receive. Good things happen from a network = go to more networking events. Hence the sales or transactional feeling. Yet to receive you need to give first. That’s why Hannah and I wanted to create an event where we would have a liked minded group of people, with a similar purpose, where you would all participate in supporting others, listening before telling, be inspired and challenged and then you would be able to carry on the conversation over a drink to celebrate your success.


Networking is not about selling. Hannah and I are both business owners so we get the desire to shout about your new company or product, did I mention Bayswater Education my new business? Networking at Coaching and Cava is about creating a network and giving first. This should be a safe environment for people to share and we should respect people’s views.


I am passionate about our industry. I know it has given me so much: learning a language taught me to communicate with people from around the world and living abroad opened my horizons. I am committed to educating and inspiring the next generation. I personally was shocked when I understood the figures that we didn’t have more equality in our industry, that despite working in education, few women became leaders in our industry. Coaching and Cava is about doing something about it. Talent should have no gender bias. Purpose is to equip the next generation of leaders of our industry through building people’s confidence, giving them support and creating a network where we can help each other be it in education or creative arts.


Now many people who attend Coaching and Cava may not naturally enjoy networking, and may have been put off networking events all together, but let me promise you that creating a network can take many forms. To give a small example: Anyone know what internationally recognised day is the 21 September? Yes, International Peace Day. As a sign of peace we decided to organise a 5-a-side football competition at Bayswater College. It also meant Friday afternoon out of the office, so no surprise how many volunteers we had. This brought together men and women from our school, our community, the industry.


For those that don’t like the idea of networking, consider this: the event brought together people that knew each other and people that didn’t from our school, community and industry, they joined in a common activity that everyone could relate to, new friendships were made, there was a social element and a team pursuit, and it was part of a far bigger goal. Call it a football match or call it networking.

International Peace Day football match

International Peace Day football match


Personally, I enjoy organising events and avoiding real work. There are of course other benefits that come from it. People that came. We had senior people in the industry e.g Steve Phillips who is the Chair of English UK, or Mark Rendell from St Giles that I was able to introduce to my team members to, who wouldn’t normally have that chance. Publicity. The event was shared online by many people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They all have friends, contacts and our college was at the centre of it. Association. It wasn’t the prime motivation, but we were able to associate ourselves with a much bigger organisation, a movement in fact. And we were the ones that organised it. You don’t have to go to ‘networking events’ if you aren’t comfortable there are many ways to.


A lot comes from being clear with your purpose. If you aren’t sure what your purpose is or that of your network, you may like to consider a simple idea of Sir Richard Branson. Love him or hate him he talks of an interesting circles idea in the latest edition of his autobiography Losing My Virginity: “Draw a small imaginary circle around yourself. Before you can do anything for others make sure you have the right balance and health in your own life. Only then can you draw a slightly larger circle around your home, that incorporates family, friends, neighbours and even the street outside your home. See how you can make a difference to everyone within that circle. 

If you have a bit of money, or a small company, draw a circle around the whole street or as much of the local community you feel you and your team can help. Draw up a list of things that need fixing and set about doing so. If you are a national company, draw a circle around your country and set about tackling some of the bigger issues and helping government get on top of them. 

If you are an international company, use your entrepreneurial skills to look at really big global problems and set out to address them. If every individual and every company draws circles, then soon they will overlap and we will together resolve most of the problems in the world. It’s a simple idea but I would suggest you try it and we can start a revolution of circles.”


Using Sir Richard’s template for building a network at different levels to have a deeper relationship. Starting with yourself – in our previous talks Lucinda Douglas spoke of being the best version of yourself. Have your mind in order, be physically fit and healthy. And ideally in balance. Take the time to call or write to your elder members of the family – wealth of knowledge that you can tap in to. Neighbours, have you met your neighbours? Join or organise a tidy up event. Close your street off and have a street party. Fight against an injustice a pub turning in to real estate, a bus service being stopped, rubbish littering your street, etc.


At work, lunch time – do you always sit at your desk and have a sandwich? Go out once in a while with a colleague you don’t work directly with, in a different department; bake a cake and bring it in, bring back some sweeties from a trip abroad and walk round the office and give them one by one stopping to chat with each person. When asked for help, rather than just giving the answer, ask shall we discuss this over lunch and take the time to teach someone. Don’t just launch in to it, take the time to ask how their day is, how their weekend was, last night what did they get up to. Turn up to leaving do’s. And when someone starts take the time to welcome new members e.g. at a staff meeting or better a drink after work.


Pick a cause – for Hannah I it is skilling the industry. For others it might the environment, or equality. Personally I find the Sustainable Development Goals a great place to start. Are you familiar with them? If you are not there are 17 goals including ending poverty, hunger, climate action etc. by the year 2030. If you feel passionate, contribute online, write a guest article or blog post. Hannah wrote a piece from the Desk of a guest blog for Study Travel Magazine. Or share your thoughts on Linked-in or with Jacqueline. Be a mentor and help someone else, choose a mentor for yourself.


Find people that are inspirational to you. At the last session we had three inspirational women: Sian Matos from Tti who told her story of rising to become Principal, Jane Dancaster as Managing Director and Sarah Cooper as head of the EnglishUK. Find them and ask for their advice.


And remember to give before you take. Adam Grant’s book Give and Take gives an excellent insight in to this. How there are people who take – we have all probably met people like that, people that take, they don’t reciprocate when somebody does something for them, they would seemingly rather put someone down if it means they will look better – represent about a quarter of people; givers – who are the opposite – naturally think as a team, always offering to help, willing to go out of their way to assist someone, offer advice – another quarter. And then there are the vast majority of people who are matchers – make up 50% of the planet. They are willing to give, so long as someone that takes reciprocates. Totally natural. If I buy you a round of drinks in the pub, it’s human nature to expect that that would be reciprocated. If I support you at work, when I need a favour, I am not expecting a flat-out refusal to not assist. So if you want good to come to you from an event, start with giving. Don’t start from a stand point of taking or selling. Understand your network’s challenges, introduce someone to someone, give them advice, share your experience, walk over to someone on their own…


Outside of here take the time to mentor someone; doing a learn at lunch; tackle a challenge head on. Don’t ask for a Linked-in recommendation before you have given one yourself. Give first. Then receive.


I would like to think that I have given first. Some ideas you may wish to consider. On individual level at events I like to act as a host and introduce people to each other. I try to connect people that would help each other in their careers or have shared interests. On a business level I try to have at least one mentee at any time to give them advice to help them achieve their goals. On an industry level I have joined and sit on the committees of EUK London and BETA to address challenges being faced across many businesses. And on a societal level every year I organise a Swimathon, where we have 50 people down our local swimming pool, to raise the profile of Marie Curie Cancer care and increase the fitness and health of my close friends and family.


I personally hope you get the most out of Coaching and Cava: that you meet interesting people, share and support each other… and you spread the word. See you at our next event.